Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons provide an unprecedented opportunity for hospitals to revolutionize both the visitor and patient experience, whilst also improving hospital operations and patient care. Along with digital wayfinding kiosks, mobile devices, and digital indoor maps, BLE beacons can enable hospitals to improve location and proximity awareness, creating a more familiar and efficient environment for patients and visitors.
BLE beacons work by broadcasting a short-range signal up to 50 meters, that has the ability to signal compatible devices, such as a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or tablet. Because the signal is short, simple, and usually unchanging, the beacons do not require internet connectivity, and thus often have battery lives that last from months to years depending on the beacon.
This location-aware technology provides users with more precise indoor navigation by broadcasting location information that can be used in conjunction with a mobile app, to help staff and patients navigate large, complex hospital facilities.
Indoor Mapping & Experiential Wayfinding
Hospitals are often complicated spaces containing a maze of hallways, departmental wings, and physician consultation rooms that cause undue confusion and anxiety for patients and visitors. Traditional wayfinding signage has come a long way, but may be difficult to decipher, or unhelpful when there are multiple buildings, so patients and visitors are often known to solicit directions from busy staff members, which is not ideal given the shortage of resources in most hospitals.
Aside from the navigational element, BLE beacons have the ability to accommodate and improve automated patient check-in. Patients with a hospital's mobile app, which when activated by a beacon signal triggers an event in the patient flow management system, are added to the registration queue and given estimated wait times. Once registered, the app prompts the patient to follow indoor directions based on beacon signals to their appointment location.
This removes friction from one of the most stressful administration times at hospitals, and helps to remove backlog from busy waiting rooms, removing the human margin for error on patients that are forgotten or unprocessed.
Proximity-based notifications are one of the main benefits of BLE beacon technology. Because of their range, the beacons have the ability to trigger a message when a patient or practitioner enters a specific area. For instance, an indoor mapping solution with integrated beacons could trigger automatic patient record retrieval when a doctor or nurse’s device comes into proximity of a particular patient's bed.
Beacons can also be used to emit a warning when elderly patients or children are too close to a dangerous area or sensitive equipment, informing staff that their presence is required at a specific location.
By using beacons in a real-time location health system, hospitals have the ability to trigger notifications and other forms of communication based on patient or staff locations. For instance, content relevant to a patient's condition can be streamed to them while awaiting a consultation. Internal staff communication can be facilitated via the app, and in emergency situations, the closest available staff can be routed to the patient. These kinds of technology applications make for a faster response rate when moments are critical.
Location and proximity-based technology combine with wireless hospital asset management to deliver better tracking of hospital equipment and resources. Any piece of equipment can be tagged, tracked, and easily located. In the same way that seconds count when getting health care staff to patients, so too does the ability to locate nearby working equipment.
Principles of hospitality are taking hold in the healthcare system. As people have become more accustomed to the convenience of their mobile devices and apps, they expect the same level of accessibility and mobile information delivery present in other industries to be extended to their treatment experience. This has prompted hospitals to develop mobile wayfinding apps that can be used in conjunction with BLE beacons among other location-aware technologies, which provide patients the enhanced experience they've come to expect.
Updated July 17, 2020: This post was originally published on November 3rd, 2015 and has been updated to provide more information.
With a track record of success in both business growth and business transformation, Chris Wiegand has dedicated his career to discovering and creating business opportunities that address real-world needs. In 2009, Chris co-founded indoor mapping company Jibestream, and led its incredible growth from an idea to a globally recognized leader in the indoor mapping space. Chris joined the Inpixon team in 2019 with Inpixon’s acquisition of Jibestream, where he continues to be a leading voice in the indoor intelligence space, driving success for the company’s indoor intelligence solutions.